I don’t know why I even make these promises when I can’t keep them. Pathetic gestures in the direction of follow-through:
- I have always greatly admired Robert Hughes for his awesome and world-shaking The Fatal Shore. Sundry folks will attest that it is the book I recommend to anyone who is curious about Australia; besides, you know you’re doing something right when Patrick O’Brien thanks you in the acknowledgements to The Nutmeg of Consolation. But Hughes wrote Shore when he was about twelve, so my adoration was greatly mixed with terror and humility. Things I Didn’t Know is the book that makes me get over that, like Hughes very much and wish I could buy him a bottle of excellent red. A recommendation from Grant, who is seldom wrong about these things.
Things is very touching on the dilemma of Australianness; you stay or leave, and both options are awkward and involve loss.
- I read The Human Stain after having several conversations about passing, and here’s a concept I lack the sociological skillzors to be able to unpack. You have to realize that while Australia has race politics of its own, and even its own lamentable history of slave trading, it’s all very different from the African American experience so I’m coming at this stuff pretty raw. I’m not sure Roth helped much. While I greatly admire both his techniques and what he is trying to pull off, I don’t like him much as a writer.
Stain does a lot of things I find impressive. It brings multiple voices to life and gives them all internal consistency and dignity. But they are all given these monologues that go on for pages and pages and there’s something about, I’m ashamed to say it but it’s the diction, that rings false to me. They all say plausible things but they all sound like a celebrated establishment novelist while they’re saying them. (Larry’s Party, another recommendation from Grant, has something of the same artificial, po-faced inner voice. Where’s the irreverence? Where are the jokes?)
Bound to be more my fault than Roth’s. Stain did have one very striking effect on me: I read Flash For Freedom! shortly after it; it’s the Flash book about slaving. The stuff about the crossing is well-researched and accurate and didn’t upset me too badly except, you know, in its substance, but when Flashy starts mucking about with a woman trying to escape up the Underground Railroad it made me physically ill, and I had to skim ahead to make sure she escaped. I always start Flashy books loving him for his, yes, irreverence and wit, and loathing him at the end for being, well, Flashy.
- Shadow Unit is what the plain people of fandom like to call cracktastic: that is, a completely addictive treat, with chewy well-realized characters and thoroughly angstig, wholly-believable jeopardy. It’s a sort of made-up fandom that skips the boring TV series part and cuts straight to the brilliant stuff people make up about it on the Net. It’s gotten me hooked on a fictional Livejournal, for the love of ponies. Mad props to evil genii Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Sarah Monette and Will Shetterly.
Okay, I guess that wasn’t as half-hearted as I thought it was going to be. No more promises though, I’ll just come out and SAY that Connie Willis and Sarah Caudwell are now on my all-time top ten list, and that I am very very annoyed with Sarah Caudwell for dying young. I guess I get to read the rest of her books in heaven, too.